Job Social Characteristics

Social characteristics of Jobs Can Enhance Positive Work Outcomes

Social characteristics of jobs reflect the degree to which a job provides social information processing opportunities.

This model argues that social information processing embedded in one’s job plays an important role in shaping the person’s job experience. For example, Weiss and Shaw (1979) conducted a study in the lab setting to demonstrate that social information could impact task perceptions and task satisfaction.

Interestingly, the increased emphasis on the social and relational aspects of work is routed with the trend towards team-oriented organizational structures Opens in new window, which emphasizes the importance of interpersonal interactions in one’s job.

In fact, met-analytic results support the notion that social characteristics account for additional variance in attitudinal and well-being outcomes beyond motivational task characteristics alone (Humphrey, Nahrgang & Morgeson, 2007).

O’Reilly and Caldwell (1979) also showed that social cues were important for affective outcome in the workplace. To date, findings in the literature support this model, and suggest that

  1. task perceptions and attitudes are influenced by social information;
  2. workers do actively compare their jobs and situations to those of others;
  3. the influence of social information appears to be strongest for attitudes, whereas objective task characteristics impact both attitudes and behavior.

With these findings in mind, Morgeson and Humphrey (2006) identify four social characteristics of a job including social support, interdependence, interaction outside the organization, and feedback from others, reflecting different ways social interactions are integrated into a job.

1.   Social Support

Social support reflects the degree to which a job provides opportunities for advice and assistance from others (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006).

Coworker and supervisor support as well as friendship opportunities at work are examples of the social support characteristic. Although not traditionally studied in job design contexts, researches from other domains suggest that social support is critical for well-being, particularly for jobs that are stressful or lack many motivational work characteristics.

According to the Socioemotional Selectivity (SES) theory, older workers in their mid and late career stages often put more values on regulating their emotions to be positive and pursuing emotionally gratifying relationships with others.

Therefore, whether a job environment offers easily accessed social support may be particularly important for their job and career related evaluations and decisions. If they are not satisfied with the social support they receive from their job environment, they are probably going to be more reactive than their younger counterparts.

2.   Interdependence

Interdependence reflects the degree to which the job depends on others and others depend on it to complete the work (Kiggundu, 1981). As such, interdependence reflects the “connectedness” of jobs to each other.

Integral to this definition are two distinct forms of interdependence:

  1. the extent to which work flows from one job to other jobs (initiated interdependence), and
  2. the extent to which a job is affected by work from other jobs (received interdependence).

Both forms of interdependence carry implications for the extent to which the job can be accomplished under sole control of a worker. The higher the initiated and received interdependence, the less likely a person can accomplish the job without interacting with other parties at work.

Following the socioemotional selectivity theory, it is conceivable that older workers who are in their mid and late career stages are more likely to enjoy the social contact at work for the reason of positive emotional gain.

3.   Interaction Outside the Organization

Interaction outside the organization reflects the extent to which the job requires employees to interact and communicate with individuals external to the organization. This interaction could take place with suppliers, customers, or any other external entity.

The “dealing with others” construct (Sims et al., 1976) is similar, although we focus solely on interactions with individuals beyond the organziation’s boundaries.

Following the socioemotional selectivity theory, we would probably expect that social contact is generally preferred by older workers as they are more emotionally oriented, but, after considering the nature of interaction outside the organization, we actually derive an opposite prediction.

Specifically, when older workers interact with organization outsiders, they are likely dealing with people who they are not very familiar with and the nature of the interaction is probably more evaluative and job-specific.

As such, this interaction may evoke stressful feelings such as uncertainty and anxiety, but not positive emotional experiences.Consequently, we expect that older workers will be less satisfied with jobs that require high levels of interaction outside the organization.

On the other hand, younger workers who are in their early career stages may view interaction with individuals external to the organization as opportunities to develop new social relationships that may facilitate their future career development (Carstensen, 1991). As such, they may be more satisfied with jobs that require more interaction outside the organization.

4.   Feedback from Others

Feedback from others captures the extent to which others provide information about performance (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006). This is different from receiving feedback from the job itself as described by Hackman and Oldham (1975).

In fact, research has shown that feedback from others and feedback from the job are only moderately related. Humphrey et al found that feedback from others has a positive effect on job satisfaction and well-being outcomes (i.e., less stress and burnout).

Feedback from others could appeal to younger workers because they need feedback from others for growth and development, while older work may benefit from other’s feedback as a barometer of their adaptive success at using optimization and compensation strategies (Baltes & Baltes, 1990) to align with their personal goals of maintenance and prevention of losses. Therefore, we expect that feedback from others is equally important for workers throughout their careers.